I would imagine the Calgary Flames are not having the season they envisioned. Having taken steps to improve themselves over the offseason – hiring a new coach, acquiring additional right wingers, fixing the goaltending – they still find themselves at the bottom of the NHL’s standings.
When you factor in games played, this is one of the worst teams in the league. That step forward they were supposed to take? Maybe it’s there in flashes, but not really enough to count, at least not at this stage of the season.
Let’s take a moment, then, and remember what we should still have to look forward to – and just who the heartbeat of this team is supposed to be.
Mind, not every player you like should be considered a core player. There are plenty of pieces on the Flames I think are valuable, but there are just a select few who are really going to be the drivers of this team going forward. They’re the most important members, the “do not trade unless the offer is like 20 first round picks” players.
I would say the core of the Flames consists of T.J. Brodie (26), Dougie Hamilton (23), Sam Bennett (20), Johnny Gaudreau (23), Sean Monahan (22), and Matthew Tkachuk (18).
That’s enough skaters for a full lineup plus one forward, because Tkachuk – who we probably could have expected to establish himself as a core player at some point – has forced his way in extremely early on in his career. He’s tied for fourth in team scoring and plays on arguably one of the best lines in the entire NHL; he’s probably only going to get better from here.
Monahan has been floundering this year, but this is still a 22-year-old who will probably score his 100th NHL before this season is over (he’s 14 away). That’s not exactly common. He’s someone you especially hope gets it back together sooner rather than later, because the Flames need him to be better on defence, yes – but they also need him to be a part of the offensive charge.
Gaudreau kind of speaks for himself at this point, and it’ll be awesome to see how much different the Flames are once he returns, and just how much stronger they should be. Last season, he was the offensive heartbeat of the team; that’ll probably continue for a while into his career.
Bennett should be looking to overtake Monahan as the number one centre – whenever he gets back to actually playing centre, that is. Part of the problem is he doesn’t really have linemates the way Gaudreau and Monahan clicked with one another; even so, he’s second in team scoring right now, and like Tkachuk, is probably only going to get better. It’s easy to forget this is really only his second season in the NHL.
Hamilton has completely turned a corner since any rough beginnings he may have had. Now that he’s being regularly played as a top four defenceman – and has a real defence partner to play with, even – he’s been one of the best players on this team. Like Bennett, he’s second in team scoring, too; also like Bennett (and Tkachuk), he’s probably only going to get better. You keep a core player like that.
Brodie is kind of the odd man of this group, simply because he’s three years older than the next guy. Still, the level of play we’re used to from him indicates a top pairing-level defenceman who’s a bit light on creating offence, but is stellar defensively more often than not. Combine that with the amazing contract he’s on, and he’s pretty key to this team.
On the outside looking in
I know, I know; I didn’t include Mark Giordano has a core member. I’m on the fence about doing that with him, but fact is, he’s 33 years old. Is he still an excellent player? Absolutely. But his age, combined with his contract, don’t make for a player you only trade away if you’re offered 20 first round picks. That doesn’t mean you just trade the guy – but it does mean he shouldn’t be quite as untouchable as the others.
Giordano is right on the cusp of it, though, by my definition. I wouldn’t fault anyone for considering him a core player on this team.
Mikael Backlund (27) and Michael Frolik (28) have been two of the best players on the Flames this season. (If Tkachuk is part of arguably one of the best lines in the NHL this season, then these two get the same credit for that, too.) But they aren’t really core: for one thing, they’re more outside the age group; for another thing, they’re more of the really, really, really, really good complementary player types. You still prefer to keep them, and you definitely have success with them; they just aren’t quite on the same level as the others should be.
Micheal Ferland (24) is also someone you could possibly group in here. Unlike the others, he fits in the core’s age group; however, his overall talents aren’t on the core’s levels. That we know of, at least – he’s scoring just as much as some of them, and if he can ever rise above fourth line ice time and prove himself a consistent scorer maybe he could be considered a part of that group. The way things are going with him right now, though, he’s turning himself into a key member of this team.
There’s no goalie in this group.
Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are a bit older and have more uncertain futures with the Flames than anyone else on this list; furthermore, we don’t really have enough on Johnson playing this consistently awesome at this point in time to even confidently say he’ll still be the starter 20 games from now.
The hope is that Jon Gillies adds himself to the core sooner rather than later, but even that isn’t certain. This is an area where we’ll just have to wait.